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This is one of the most disappointing books I've read in a long time. The authors spend half the time painting a dystopian global warming future as the "motivation" for leaving the planet. Never mind that the society they describe would not have the discretionary resources to support such an investment, or that they've cherry picked the worst case scenarios to build this future, this odiversion has nothing to do with the actual subject of the book.
To be clear, I believe we face a real problem with global warming. If I wanted a book on climate change, I would have bought one, but not this one. In dealing with both planetary science, space exploration, and climate change, the authors make broad generalizations to support questionable conclusions. There was some interesting material sprinkled in, but I find it suspect based on the other material.
According to these authors
- NASA is an incompetent, closed minded bureaucracy (not entirely untrue, but not credible as presented)
- There is no point in going back to the moon, or going to Mars
- Titan will be a garden spot with beaches and people flying under their own power
- The ocean will rise and swallow the cities overnight, but people won't be smart enough to move inland. The rich will move to fortress homes in the mountains. In the midst of this, someone is building great spaceships.
The strangest part is that the book starts by talking about the difficulties predicting the future, and describes how one person accurately predicted the future of the airline industry. They show how the prediction was based on simple extrapolation of existing technology and basic consideration of economic incentives. It's as if that chapter was never considered again, because the authors certainly didn't take that approach. That approach would put us establishing and growing a settlement on the moon, not leaping to Titan.
I must admit, this review is only based on the first five chapters. I'm not going to waste any more time. There are much better books on the subject.
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Warning! This is a book by a crank! About cranks. For cranks. If you don't yet have a strong background in science, stay far, far away from this book lest it fill you with misconceptions and misinformation.
If the contents weren't bad enough, the format of this book is awful, too. Odd chapters are future predictions communicated as really pulpy, expositional science fiction. They include (no, I'm not joking) a robot army fighting Islamic terrorists, an Exxon colonial space ship, an all-women city on Titan called "Amazonia", and alien pornography broadcast to Earth thanks to faster-than-light communication with the galactic Internet. Alien. Pornography.
Still not convinced? The authors are conspiracy theorists. They thinks "the general public has been left in the dark" about the health dangers of space travel. They even call Carl Sagan "a supercilious jerk". The only reason someone could possibly call Sagan this is from fear. Fear that Sagan's skepticism would be turned on them and expose their idiotic beliefs.
For those with morbid curiosity, here are some of the things these this book gets completely wrong:
* Gullibly repeats the media headlines that Google translation AI "invented its own secret language". (It didn't.)
* A fear-monger's explanation of the paperclip maximizer thought experiment. In short, this thought experiment is scary only if you imagine an AI that has severe mental handicaps in some areas (knowing about humans) but not others (how to make machines to disassemble an entire planet). This is just special pleading and praying on our own innate fears.
* An uninformed telling of the Fermi paradox. It's basically an urban myth that we've looked for life in the galaxy and found none. The truth is we've barely begun to look.
* Greatly exaggerated claims of mental risk from space travel. This is based on one study that has been over-hyped in the media. This study has many limitations. It didn't use galactic cosmic rays, but radioactive Titanium. It uses a mouse model and mice have significant known differences in skull thickness, etc. In fact, we know from studies of humans on the space station that any cognitive effect from long-term exposure has a pretty darn low upper limit.
* Greatly exaggerated claims of cancer risk from space travel. The author interviewed some NASA scientist who got fired for fear mongering (can't remember or find his name at the moment). He did some calculation that showed the cancer risk from a trip to Mars is large. Everyone in the scientific community disagrees with is findings. And anyway, the this argument against a manned mission to Mars is ridiculous. A little bit of mortal danger? Who cares? Nobody's being forced to go. It's the next frontier. How awful would our plight be as a species if we were no longer willing to take risks to discover things and advance science?!
* Conflating the health consequences of micro-gravity with the lower gravity on other planets. He goes on and on about optic nerve swelling like it's the end of the world. I'm pretty sure Scott Kelly is doing just fine. Thanks. Anyway the effects experienced by astronauts on the International Space Station are not predicted to impact people living on the Moon or Mars. All that's needed for our pulmonary system to take care of things is a clear down direction. There is no medical reason the magnitude of the normal vector need be exactly 1g.
* The biggest crank in this book has got to be Sonny White. There was even a great piece in the book where the authors corresponded with White and asked him a question about the casimir force. In reply White laid on them a Dunning-Kruger whopper! He said, to extend the casimir force to a large scale, just make a lot of little cavities in a material, like a big pumice stone. The obvious flaws in this idea are (1) pumice stones actually exist and don't have an extended negative energy field around them and (2) while the casimir effect is present *inside* a gap in between two plates, the wave functions average out to *zero* when seen from the outside. This is the danger of letting an engineer theorize... I say that with love as an engineer myself.
* The book claims we need something like the EM drive to get to Titan. He describes it as a reaction-less engine. Which is a contradiction in terms because of a little thing called the CONSERVATION OF MOMENTUM. The idea that the EM drive pushes off the quantum vacuum is preposterous.
* The claim that GMO babies "will hasten our demise". I don't even. There's also a lot of general agricultural pessimism.
* Climate change alarmism. I know, I know. When people say this they're often coming from a place of climate science denial. I'm not. I just think that the Statue of Liberty can't be half-covered by the ocean because its pedestal is more than 6 meters above sea level. The main plot of the "future" chapters in this book involves people getting so miserable on Earth that they decide to escape to Titan. This is ridiculous. This plot point hinges on social unrest due to climate refugees and increasing violence. Today I can say the climate will change and it will devastate ecosystems and cause mass human migrations. But there is no indication society will unravel as a result. It may not feel like it, but war and violence are still decreasing. This plot point is contrived and hinges on an alarmist position.
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